This just started, but there already seems to be a lot of questions that essentially boil down to "Please list stories that X". These questions cannot have a definitive answer, and sometimes you can simply find a highly comprehensive list on wikipedia. These kinds questions can be interesting to find new reading material on a particular topic, though.

How should we treat these questions?

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    I think people are confusing one-item-per-answer pseudo-polls and answers that consist of a list of items. Stackexchange frowns on the former, but the latter are answers like any other, and it would be phenomenally silly to disallow them.
    – Martha
    Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 0:53
  • @Martha: We're looking at questions here, not answers. The problem with questions that seem to invite a list of answers is that it turns out to be very hard to get people not to add an answer because they thought of one example that may or may not have been mentioned in another answer. In other words, list questions tend to become pseudo-polls even if the asker wasn't deliberately aiming for that. This has been true on SFF.SE and on other SE sites before that.
    – user56
    Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 19:58
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    I hate that these get closed. It has always bugged me on all the SE sites. My favorite poll questions always get closed, and then I feel a definitive list will never exist. It particularly bugs me that one of the biggest arguments against these types of questions is that lists exist elsewhere. Wha!?! I am not elsewhere, I'm on this site. Perhaps there should be a SE-like set of sites that ONLY allows list questions. I wonder if such a thing exists.
    – livingtech
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 23:08

7 Answers 7


I see these as falling into two categories:

  • A definitive answer exists
    If there's a Wikipedia page that answers the question, then I think there's something that can be declared a definitive answer. In that case, it falls into the question Are Google-able questions appropriate?.

  • No definitive answer exists
    It's a poll, and as such, should be community wiki.
    Per Real Questions Have Answers, these should be closed.

  • 1
    I don't think poll, should be community wiki, they should be closed. I just asked a question about that on meta.stackoverflow. meta.stackexchange.com/q/75168/146540
    – DavRob60
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 1:07
  • 3
    @DavRob60: They're not polls: they're not asking for opinions, just examples of works that fit a certain category. I think “should they be CW” is the wrong question at this point, the real question is whether we want them or not. CW is just a detail about reputation.
    – user56
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 0:34
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    Questions that poll the community are out of the scope of Stack Exchange, and need to be closed, unless they encourage very good, thoughtful answers. Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 4:06
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    To clarify, I agree with the first point in this question, not the second. Can I both upvote and downvote this? Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 5:11
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    A suggestion: outside of the obviously subjective 'what is your favorite...' nonsense, we should probably close lists as 'Not a Real Question' or off topic to avoid falling into the 'But what if my list question is really specific and non-judgmental' arguments that plagued Gamings debates over Game-rec questions. Basically, we need to allow all of them or none of them, or we just get ourselves into trouble. Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 8:52
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz - I agree. @Dori - Aww better, yes. :) Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 17:28
  • So do list questions have a definitive answer? I'm tempted to say yes, because you could write a dissertation on the history of concept X in literature, citing significant works and their influence on a genre. They are squarely outside the Metafilter-inspired “questions not to ask” in Jeff's blog post.
    – user56
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 19:55

The point of Stack Exchange is to come up with a list of questions that have answers, hopefully good questions with good answers upvoted. Anything else should be closed as unanswerable. Stack Exchange seems to tolerate these questions to some degree, though.

Discussing possible things to read is inappropriate for a Q&A site, and is better suited to a web forum. A lot of users don't quite get this, but Stack Exchange is not a forum. List questions and polls, unless they give real value to the site, should be closed.


Not every list will have an endless number of possible list items. Case in point: What actors were considered for the role of Data on TNG?


These questions are certainly popular. I'm torn about them. On the one hand, they're interesting because they lead people to discover new works about particular themes. On the other hand, and they're an awfully big part of the site, and most of the questions we do have are very broad.

Here's an example of what I consider an overly broad question that won't attract experts: What works feature humans gaining immortality and its effects?. Example of a good, narrow-focus list question: good old fashioned Girls* Building Space Infrastructure novels

“Please list stories that X” is not in itself a subjective question. Whether a story has X or not is usually uncontested. These questions can have answers of varying quality: is X a significant theme in the stories cited in the answer? Did this story have a lot of influence in the genre? In this, they do fit the Stack Exchange format, with votes on answers (a good answer being one citing influential stories exploring X), and even reputation granted for giving good answers. What might not work here is accepting answers, but is this so bad?

Note that I'm not including “recommend me a story that X” or “what's your favorite story that X” here. The former are discussed in another Meta thread. The latter are prime examples of bad subjective.

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    Yeah, they're popular and fun, but if we tolerate these questions, people will keep asking them and we'll get more list questions, most of which don't add value to the site. Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 5:12
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    @neilfein: I question the assertion that they don't add value. I tend to find them more interesting than definitely-on-topic questions about details of a work I haven't read/seen.
    – user56
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 8:21
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    To clarify, by "add value" I mean the following: Such lists can be found in quantity on any sci-fi web forum. Stack Exchange is supposed to do better than that. If we don't improve on what a forum can do, there's no reason for this site to exist. (There are rare cases where list questions can be useful to a Stack Exchange site, but nothing on this site is yet such a case.) Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 17:31
  • @neilfein: Can you give an example of one of those rare cases?
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 0:44
  • @morganpdx - Sure, I'd be happy to. How about the terminology index on Bicycles, which has been used on the rest of the site (what's the door zone?). There are several "list" threads on Stack Overflow that have somehow managed to inspire useful, thoughtful answers; I'll post one if I come across it. Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 1:36

I think they go into 2 categories:

  • Genuine list, even if there's a Wikipedia page that answers the question, they then to become a poll because of the site's mechanic.
  • Recommendations

Here's my story, I posted my question on meta stack exchange and my comment Dori's post after I saw this question about List of good cyberpunk novels. Which is the worst example of a poll I have seen so far. I mean, It's stated in the question's text that you should "Vote up answers containing novels you think are good.". Anyway, this question got closed pretty fast, which is a good sign.

Then, (yes, AFTER I made the above actions, it's not my first contradiction.) I posted my own list question about works feature the development of a self-aware AI?. I even tagged it [list]! However, I was feeling it was not as damageable as the above (Which is not an excuse).

And now I know why, this question have a purpose.This is not a list, this is a reading recommendation request. (I just changed the tag on my question.)

Now, the question we need to answer is Are “recommend me” questions allowed?. So far it seem yes, but this may change on the future. some site allow that, some not. There's many reason for that and I recommend to check some of the discussion on that topic on the Gamming meta


Someone also noted that some list questions are being closed, while others are not. We should at least be consistent. Oh, and tonight a moderator came through and closed a bunch of them. We're using [list] to track them, and they're the most popular type of question ... so should we start voting to close them now?


I think that there is a significant service that can be provided here - story identification and correlation is something which seems quite relevant to the SF&F community, and is a kind of question that is likely to crop up often.

If this is not something that can be effectively done within this forum, I understand that - but there's a significant service which can be offered, so I'd say, think more carefully about this one, than about other sites. If there ever is a site where an exception to this rule might be made, this site looks like it qualifies.

  • 1
    Note that story identification is (at least for now!) considered on-topic. Correlation (by which you presumably mean recommendations for similar work) may or may not be.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 7:53

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